Monday, July 25, 2016

Life Lessons from Comic-con: Kevin Smith, Ron Moore, and J. Michael Stravinsky

I just got back from San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) and it was as usual, a madhouse.  Some 200,000 people went through the convention center, and there were great costumes and panels.  While I could tell you about the various announcements (the new Wonder Woman trailer for example), those have been covered by many other sources.

Comic-con is actually a pretty inspiring place for writers and creative types, who often start as “fans” and end up giants in the field.  In addition to the big giant panels (Game of Thrones, Star Trek, Star Wars, Walking Dead) there are actually a lot of smaller panels that offer tips for those looking to break into the industry and to create their own art.

I thought I’d write about lessons from 3 well-known writers who spoke at Comic-Con whose talks you may not have heard about on the latest geek newssite:
  • Kevin Smith, who usually has a huge session at Hall H on Saturday night, is of course the writer/director of Mall Rats and Clerks in the 90s, and just launched a show on AMC called Geeking Out. 
  • J. Michael Stracinsky is the creator of Babylon 5 and the more recent Sense8, and a well known writer in Hollywood.  
  • Ron Moore, recently show runner of Outlander and Battlestare Galactica, started his career working on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

While I could write entire blog posts about each of these guys and what they said at Comic-Con, I thought I’d share one little inspiring tidbit from each talk:

J. Michael Stracinsky:  At the end of his talk, JMS told us that he was once just like those of us in the audience, sitting at Comic-con looking up to the writers/creators on the stage.  He did this to encourage those of us in the audience to “take the leap” and express ourselves creatively, and see if we can turn it into a career.  

He then told us the story of one of his friends who worked for the state of California until she was 53 years old.  She told JMS that she felt like there was nothing of her in the work she was doing – there was no creativity, and she wanted to do something that expressed her personality more, but felt like it was too late.  JMS asked her what she was passionate about – and she said she liked “pets”.  She was also into “photography”.  He encouraged her to combine these interests and to do “pet photography”.  Her objection was that while that would be a good "hobby",  it would take years to establish herself to be able to make a living at something like, this – it might even take three years, and then she’d be 56 before she was really doing what she loved as a career.  At this point, he paused and told us he asked her this question: “And how old will you be in in 3 years if you don’t pursue this passion project?”

“That’s right, you’ll be 56 years old.”  He told us this story, he said, to remind us first of all that it’s never too late to get started, but also to remind us that time is passing and that we should get started on those ideas and stop wasting time, start doing the things that we love now.
Ron Moore:  Ron was on a panel with other writers of Star Trek.  Of course, he spent many years working on Star Trek: The Next Generation and then various other Star Trek properties before becoming a show runner of his own.  He tells the story of how after he moved to LA, he was struggling as a writer.  He started dating a girl that worked on the set of the new Star Trek.  She was able to get him a tour of the set.  He was so excited that he wrote up a spec script for ST:TNG and took it with him.  At the end of the tour, he pulled out the script and asked the guy who was giving the tour if they could get the spec script to someone that could take a look. The tour guide ended up being Gene Roddenberry’s assistant, and took the script to the show producers, who liked it enough to hire him as a writer on the show.  It goes to show you, you never know what coincidences or circumstances will lead you to get a break in front of the right person.

Kevin Smith: Kevin always gives a great talk at the end of Comic-Con, usually with a few unexpected stories about Ben Affleck and/or JJ Abrams (whose Star Wars Panel  was just before Smith’s last year).  Kevin said a lot, but here are a few random inspiring thoughts. You can make a TV show but getting it on a network may be tough; you can make a movie, but getting it into theaters may be tough.  Do a podcast and there are no gatekeepers, you can send it in to iTunes and there it is, and he encouraged everyone to start their own podcasts, just start recording yourself and others talking about stuff that you care about.  He also said that there was a time when Star Wars wasn’t cool (I remember this time) and no one talked about it.  Grown men were OK talking about sports and stats, but not about Star Wars and Comic-books.  Since he had no one else to talk to about Star Wars, he put scenes in his movies where the characters were sitting around talking about Star Wars. This inadvertently led to many opportunities for him – but the key was he was just putting down what he wanted to talk about.

How many times, he asked, have you sat there watching something on TV or elsewhere and thought, I’m just as smart as those guys, and could do this as good as they’re doing it? He used to think the same thing.  He told us the story of how he told his sister, when he was 21 years old, that he told his sister that he was going to be a film-maker.  She told him “OK, then be a film-maker”.  He repated that he “was going to become” a filmmaker, but she insisted that he just start “being a film-maker”.  He started following the advice and started to think about of himself as a film-maker who just hadn’t made a full feature film yet.  He adopted the mindset of a being a film-maker and started making films about stuff he knew and he was passionate about.  And that led to him becoming a film-maker and then being there on stage in front of us at Comic-con, and he encouraged everyone in the audience to do the same.

So there you go, Comic-Con is not only a place to see your favorite actors, or cosplayers dressed like super-heroes, it’s a pretty inspirational place, especially for those of us who believe we have our own stories to tell and want to turn our passions into reality.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Pokemon Go: What Mobile & Gaming Entrepreneurs Can Learn from It

If you haven't heard about the success of Pokemon Go, recently, from Niantic games based on the beloved Pokemon franchise, you would have to be hiding under a rock.  It has been downloaded many millions of times, and has become the #1 top grossing app in both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.  Millions of players are wandering around with their phones held up high looking for “poke-stops” where they can catch a “pokemon”. 

Many articles have been written about the arrival of AR (augmented reality) and location based games.  The week Pokemon Go was released I was walking with some twenty-something colleagues to lunch castro st in downtown Mountain View, in the heart of Silicon Valley, and they were of course holding up their devices and pointing out not just pokestops but excitedly chattering about the latest “pokemon” which they were trying to catch. 

I had a strange sense of déjà vu. In fact, I recalled in 2011, when the founders of another gaming company, had shown me augmented reality games on the same street.  In AR mode in both Pokemon and this game, you had the camera of the phone on which showed you the surroundings with the “augmented” elements.  In their case, they were “bombs” placed by other players at specific locations around downtown castro st.  In the new case, they were Pokestops and lures placed by other players to catch Pokemon.

That company in 2011 was one of a steady stream of location-based augmented reality games that entrepreneurs showed me for the next two years.  It was one of the things that you could do with mobile games that you couldn’t do with any other type of games (Facebook, Steam, Console), they argued, and it was bound to be the future of mobile gaming. Many investors agreed and put some seed money into these companies.

In fact, at one point (I can’t remember what year), a couple of guys out Stanford showed me their game which was a location based game where you captured cute little creatures that had different abilities and then you battlted other players – it was called Geomon, a play on “Pokemon” and “Geo” - sounds familiar, doesn't it?   

What happened to those startups? Most of these location based augmented reality startups came and went – they’re either out of business or were acquihired by other companies needing the engineers and their games shut down.

While I think it's very difficult am hesitant to compare one startup to another, there is an important lesson here: Don’t be Too Early.  Sometimes, being too early can be as bad as being too late.

If you are too early, you need lots of staying power for the market to catch up with you, and to keep creating products until one of them hits the sweet spot in the market.  It’s not easy – in fact, most of the companies that pitched location based AR games to me in 2011 and 2012 ran out of money – they couldn’t convince investors to keep supporting them, which is the dilemma of the startup entrepreneur that is too early.

Pokemon Go Studio Niantic also released their first well-known location based game, Ingres, in 2012, then released it to the public in 2013 on Andoird.  But Naintic was initially part of Google, and they were able to keep the company going for a while before they signed on Pokemon, and they got a $30 million investment before they released it.

Now I’m not saying that the AR/location mechanic was the only reason for the success of Pokemon Go; The other, perhaps just as important reason was that the IP, Pokemon, appealed to a generation who are now grown up (but not too grown up) and are heavily into mobile games, so every twenty something mobile game player probably had good memories of Pokemon and wanted to try it out.  Not to mention, the fact that their friends were playing it means it got to the critical mass.  This expression “critical mass” comes to us from the world of the atomic bomb, where it defines the amount of mass needed for a single neutron to set of a chain reaction; the neutron hits the nucleus, sending off several neutrons, who hit other nucleus, and so on, until it reaches the point where it becomes a self-sustaining chain reaction. 

But for entrepreneurs who are looking for the “next big thing” (and there are lots in Silicon Valley right now, particularly looking at VR, for example),  the real lesson is that in startups as well as in life, Timing is often the most important factor.  Hitting the market at the right time – not being too early and not being too late – are critical for the type of product that you have.  A related lesson is that sometimes, the second or third product is the more successful one.    

Similarly, Angry Birds was famously Rovio’s 51st game., and Draw Something, was the last attempt by the gamemaker OMGPop, which was sold to Zynga for $200 million.

Finally, leveraging the strengths of your company’s first product is sometimes a key part in getting out the second or third product which may be the one which vaults your startup to success!

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Thursday, July 07, 2016

Startup Myth: Will Someone Steal Your Idea?

I recently was speaking with someone who mentioned that they had an idea for a healthcare/nutraceutical startup. It sounded like a reasonable idea, targeting a niche that was underserved. At the end of the conversion she said, “OK, well don’t tell anyone about this idea!”
I was amused to hear her say that about a healthcare idea. I used to get that in the tech startup world all the time. Since I’m writing a book about Startup Myths, I thought I’d write about this one, since it’s probably one of the most common myths about startups: If I tell someone my idea, they will copy it.
The corollary of this myth is that before a prospective entrepreneur tells you their idea, they will pull out an NDA they want you to sign before they tell you what it is. This is often known as the “unsolicited NDA”.
Let’s get this out of the way right now: Nothing makes you look more like an amateur in the world of startups than the unsolicited NDA. In Silicon Valley, most (if not all) professional venture capital investors and angel investors won’t sign NDAs. Period. 
I know you think your idea is worth a million bucks. But the truth is that investors are bombarded with ideas for startups. Getting a million dollar idea for a startup isn’t very hard. What’s hard is building a startup to be successful day in and day out. I remember back in the days thinking that measuring the links from sites was a better way to measure and index websites. So what. I didn’t write a paper on it, I never prototyped it, I didn’t start a company to do that, but Segie and Larry did and they started Google did. Good for them!
Often, the unsolicited NDA will come from someone outside of Silicon Valley - Los Angeles being a good example. Now, I suppose there are some very limited set of companies perhaps that have a ground-breaking patent that hasn’t been filed yet where there might a legitimate reason for an NDA, but only if they are going to be filling you in on the details of the patent. Similarly, there are some unscrupulous folks in Hollywood that might steal your “high concept” (here’s a multi-million dollar high concept idea for you Independence Day meets Dolphins … oh wait, that was Star Trek IV, except with Humpback Whales!)
But the reality is, if someone simply overhears your idea, it’s highly unlikely that they’re going to go and build it themselves. Doing a startup is hard. Let me rephrase that. Doing a successful startup is very hard. It takes years of your life with very little pay and often no appreciation. Why would you do that with someone else’s idea or dram?
Moreover, in the tech startup world, unless you pitch your idea to people who are knowledgable about the industry as well as to investors and customers, you won’t get the feedback you need to refine your idea. Rarely are startups successful with the very first product — there is usually an iteration that happens before honing in on the “killer product” or “application” of a particular new technology or platform.
Let’s use an analogy — I often hear the same thing from people who are thinking of writing a book. They don’t want to tell their idea because they are afraid someone else will run with it. I was at a writing workshop that Reid Tracy, the president of Hay House (one of the most prominent mind/body/spirit publishers), was presenting at, and he tried to disavow the attendees of this notion. He said that as a potential author, you have to tell people about your idea to get feedback and refine the pitch if you ever want to get published.
He also said that 20% of success in modern publishing is about writing of the book and 80% is about marketing the book. Let me rephrase that: 1% is the idea of the book, 19% is about the writing of the book, and the other 80% is about the marketing of the book.
Similarly in startups, while the idea is important, validation of the idea by presenting it to the right people is an extremely important part of the process. Also, even if two people have the same idea they may build very different products. Continuing the analogy, suppose you had overheard J.K.Rowling say she’s going to write a book about a “13 year old boy who learns he’s a wizard and goes to a wizarding school”. Would you have written the Harry Potter books? Probably not. I would have written a very different book even if I’d had the same “basic idea”.
There is one area that’s worth mentioning here, which applies to book writing as well as tech startups. What happens if you tell everyone your idea and they think you are crazy or stupid or that it’s just a bad idea?
It’s possible to get discouraged. This is where you have to use your intuition and discernment. Many people have started companies with products or needs that weren’t there yet in the market. First of all, is there feedback valid? Secondly, are you betting that the market will change in the future to make their feedback invalid?
These questions aren’t easy and they require a bit of “fortune-telling”. That said, if you are telling your idea to the right people you will get more valid feedback than invalid, and this can only help you to improve your product or (more importantly) your go to market concept.
But, I’ll write more about “pivoting” in another myth-related blog post.
For now, relax. And stop worrying about someone stealing your idea (it’s only 1% of success). Worry more about how you are going to build a product first (the other 19%), and then about how you are going to get your product to market and make it successful (the other other 80%)!

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Monday, January 25, 2016

Nerds set Twitter on Fire: Did Football screw up the X-Files premiere for millions??

Well the new X-files reboot has finally started. You could probably tell that I was excited about it ( see my last post The X-Files Revival: 5 Things About UFO)

Finally,  just before 7pm pacific I, like millions of others, tuned into Fox - a network that I honestly don't watch that much anymore because so many of the best shows are on cable channels these days.  Expecting to see the X-Files,  I saw there was a football game on.   That's right - a football game!

So, in one of the biggest sci fi events in years, a public relations and ratings coup for Fox to bring this show back that so many of us are waiting for, and what do we see? Football.  

I, like many other X-File fans, am not a big football fan,  but it looked like the game was almost over so it wasn't worried.  In fact, the game ended on time just before 7pm, so I started looking on twitter to see what people were saying about the X-Files.    

Then 7pm came about, and guess what, the game was over but rather than start the X-Files premiere on time, they were still showing commentary on the game!   So basically, the millions of people who tuned into Fox to see the X-Files were treated to commentary on a football game.

Twitter lit up, and in the old days, pre social media, the geeks among us would have to just grin and bear it while the "mainstream" chided us for not being good consumer-fans of all-american football who jump up and down when their favorite team wins or loses. How can you not like Football - what are you some kind of wimp?

@aspen_musing shows how fox had the perfect strategy to piss off fandom!

@Gretchel expressed a lot of nerds feelings towards football vs. the X-Files.

 As we waited, and watched the talking heads go on and on about football ... nerds were on a twitter rampage - see what @see_clair_write said:

The best tweet may have come form @stevekemple who saw it as a conspiracy from the X-Files CSG (Cigarette Smoking Man) to get millions more to watch football.

Now some of you might say, what's the big deal ... it's just football!   Why was it enough to start a full jocks vs. nerds smackdown??  Look at what @LadyHawkins and @alie_asstrocyte said about jocks vs. nerds.

But for many of us, it brought us back to high school.  Those of you who went to high school before nerds were cool, mind you.  Back then, we were made to feel "less than" because we weren't into sports - and football in particular.  We liked being on our computer more than watching a bunch of dumbasses grab at each other while hunching over on the football field.  We were arguing about Kirk vs. Picard rather than XXX vs. XXXX (OK - see I can't even namey any football stars from my day - maybe OJ Simpson??).

You see, it wasn't just that Fox had delayed the X-Files premiere, but it was like a slap in the face that they had done it for Football - the one thing most nerds are not into and were made to feel bad because we weren't into it!

But don't take my word for it - Twitter started to reflect these sentiments really well!

Plus at that point, we weren't sure if we were going to *miss* the first 20 or 30 minutes of the premiere!

The real problem for Fox though is that today, many millinoso f people watch shows recorded on their DVR/PVR.  And most of us who didn't watch it live simply set our cable box to record it.  Now imagine the surprise of people when they put their kids to bed and sat down to watch teh X-Files - what did they see? 20 or 30 minutes of talk about Football!

Many of these people are pissed off because the DVR only reocred the 30 minutes of the show! That means they missed half of the premiere episdoe!  And the next episode is on tomorrow night! That means that unless they can see it on demand, or Fox airs it again, Fox just screwd up the whole mini-series for them!

Way to go Fox - as far as fuckups go - this was a big one!

For those of who did manage to tune in, while I'm excited to watch the next episode monday night (I will provide a review once I've seen more episodes), the truth is still out there - thankfully the football season is almost over so there can't be any monday night football, can there???

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Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Truth Is Out There: 5 Things You Need to Know about UFOs for the Upcoming X-Files Revival

“They’re here, aren’t they?” said Fox Mulder to his secret informant, known to viewers only as Deep Throat. 
“Mr. Mulder,” began the old man, in a reprimanding tone, “They have been here for a long, long time.”
As many of you know, the X-Files revival starts soon (the new six episode mini-season picks up, appropriately, 13 years after the X-Files went off the air). Just recently, they had a premiere in Los Angeles of the first episode for the new mini-season, and Fox recently released a 1 minute clip online.
For those of you who don’t know, the X-Files was one of the most popular US TV series in the 1990s, at its height averaging 20 million viewers per episode. The main protagonist Fox Mulder, is an FBI agent whose sister was taken from their room when he was a kid, in what Mulder believed was an alien abduction. This fueled his lifelong obsession with paranormal phenomena and uncovering the truth about UFOs, Aliens, and a global conspiracy. I watched the show religiously with friends, staying in on Friday nights when it first came on, before it got really popular and moved to Sunday nights.
Years later, when I became an executive producer on the documentary Thrive: What On Earth Will It Take, made by Foster Gamble and Kimberly Carter Gamble, (one of the most watched documentaries of all time), I started to do a little research on this subject on my own. I found out that while many Americans believe in UFOs, there tends to be a lot of misunderstanding about the phenomenon and about the people who’ve had these experiences, particularly in the minds of many of my “scientific” oriented friends.
So, just in time for the X-Files revival here are 5 things you may not know about the UFO phenomenon that inspired the X-Files:

1. The X-Files wasn’t purely science fiction, according to Chris Carter.
Like many others fans, I took the X-Files to be “simply” an original work of science fiction, which sprung from the mind of Chris Carter, the show’s creator. While the series is fiction, Carter himself will tell you that that many of the elements are based on real-life accounts.
When I started to investigate on my own, I started to meet people in the UFO community and hearing their accounts. The stories I heard sounded a lot like what I had seen in the X-files. The implants, the eyewitness accounts of triangular craft and bright lights, the cases of missing time, all of these have been reported by numerous witnesses.
 In fact, I was told by a mutual friend that Chris Carter discouraged his actors from attending science fiction conventions because the X-Files wasn’t purely science fiction. In preparation for the upcoming revival, if you watch the very first X-files episode, Pilot, and watch carefully, you’ll see that it says, “The following story is inspired by actual documented accounts” at the beginning of the episode. I actually met Chris Carter last year, before they started filming the new season, at a UFO-related event in San Mateo, and it was clear that he was continuing to research what people had to say on this subject — perhaps some of his new research will show up in the revivial.

2. Myth: Only people who wear tinfoil hats and tabloid reporters take UFOs seriously.
One of the persistent myths about UFOs and people who believe in them is that it is a fringe group of people who “live off the grid” and wear tinfoil hats. After having been to a dozen UFO events and interviewing hundreds of people, I haven’t seen a single tinfoil hat (OK I saw one but that was fro teh benefit of reporters who wanted to take a photo of “weird UFO people”). In fact, I have met intelligent people from all walks of life — scientists, engineers, people who worked for NASA, to independently wealthy businessmen and women, to retirees. The only commonality I could find was confidence in what they’ve seen and experienced, and strong belief that the “truth is out there” and that it should be investigated more seriously.
There are many well-known people who have had UFO sightings, and many who support finding out the truth. . In Los Angeles, Dan Akroyd is a well known proponent of UFO research. John Podesta, who served as an advisor to President Obama and Chief of Staff to Bill Clinton, has been very vocal about his interest in the subject and his desire to get the truth out, a process known to UFO enthusiasts as “Disclosure”. John Podesta tweeted in 2014 that his biggest regret in working for the Obama white house was that he was unable to secure disclosure of top secret UFO files.
In fact, Hillary Clinton, was recently asked about UFOs by a reporter in Conway, New Hampshire while campaigning there. Mrs. Clinton said she believed we might have been visited by aliens in the past, and that if elected president, she would get to the bottom of it.
And UFOs are not just for tabloids. Leslie Kean, a serious investigative reporter, received a copy of a report from retired French generals that said that they believed the UFO phenomena was real and should be investigated seriously (called the “COMETA” report). Kean’s book, UFOs: General, Pilots ,and Government Officials Go On the Record, is a great book for those who know nothing about the phenomenon or are inclined to dismiss it out of hand. There have been many pilots, many members of the military, and many other government officials who have been willing to speak on and off the record and Ms Kean does a great job of presenting finally about this phenomenon. It’s a shame that this myth is so prevalent that many “serious” scientists and engineers won’t even take the time to read books like Ms Kean’s.

3. Myth: There is no evidence of UFOs.
Many skeptics say there is no evidence that UFOs exist. They’re not quite right. First of all, there are tons of photographic evidence of odd “unidentified” objects flying over both rural and urban landscapes. The next argument is that these pictures are all photoshopped — a charge that doesn’t hold up when the photos are from the 60’s and 70’s — I’ve seen some of these older photos, some taken by the members of the military, and they are very convincing. Moreover, when there are multiple witnesses that corroborate the photographical evidence (like in the Phoenix lights incident — more on this one below), the skeptic’s view that they are all doctored doesn’t really hold-up.
And then there are literally thousands of eyewitness reports –ranging from places like O’Hare airport to Rendlesham Forest in the UK (in a famous military sighting).
If that isn’t enough evidence for you, Emeritus Professor of applied physics at Stanford, Peter Sturrock says, “radar evidence” is physical evidence, and there have been multiple sightings where radar evidence was available that corroborated what pilots say they were seeing.
This includes a well-known incident over Alaska in 1986, where a Japan Air Lines pilot, Kenju Terauchi, was flying near Mt. McKinley when he reported seeing a UFO: “Then there was a kind of reverse thrust, and the lights became dazzlingly bright. Our cockpit lit up. The thing was flying as if there was no such thing as gravity. It sped up, then stopped, then flew at our speed, in our direction, so that to us it looked like it was standing still. The next instant it changed course. There’s no way a jumbo could fly like that. If we tried, it’d break apart in mid-air. In other words, the flying object had overcome gravity,” Terauchi said.
John Callahan, the FAA Division Chief of the Accidents and Investigations branch, had the data, which covered more than a half hour. Callahan has testified many times about what he saw, “As far as I’m concerned, I saw a UFO chase a Japanese 747 across the sky for over half an hour on radar.”
If that’s still not enough to convince you that there is “some” evidence, in the abduction area, there have been physical objects (known as “implants”) that have been pulled out of abductees bodies, and X-rays also count as physical evidence. In the cases where doctors surgically extracted them, the metallic objects somehow evaporated, in other cases they were able to preserve them and find that they a unique “anomalous” structure and were meant to be housed inside the human body.
Whether you believe in aliens or not, these implants had to have been placed there by someone. The question is who? It’s unlikely abductees would have the surgical skill to put them there themselves — so the question remains, who put them into their bodies? This question remains unanswered. In the original X-files, implants were a not insubstantial part of the story, and whenever the government got a hold of one, as at the end of the first episode of the X-Files, in a scene reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark or Warehouse 13, they put it away in the midst of a giant government warehouse, to be lost.

4. Myth: Sightings only happen in the countryside, only in the US, and only since we started flying airplanes.
Again, these are myths. There have been anomalous objects reported in the sky well before the modern era of airplanes, going back to the 1500s and beyond. In their wonderful book, “Wonders in the Sky”, Jacque Vallee ad Chris Aubeck have catalogued these sightings. Jacquee Vallee, a long time French UFO researcher, was in part the inspiration for the French scientist in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, made by another UFO believer, Stephen Spielberg. In one of the most famous pre-airplane incidents, in 1561 a number of spheres and disks, which were red, blue, and back, were seen to come out of two vertical cylinders over Nuremberg, Germany. The residents of the town reported that these objects seem to fight each other — there’s even a well-known drawing of this image. 
In recent times, lest you buy the myth that sightings only happen in remote places, one of the most famous sightings was the Phoenix Lights. In 1997, an estimated 10,000 people saw a set of triangularly arranged lights not just hovering but moving over the Phoenix metro area from North to South. There were numerous photographs of the incident, and a great book (along with a documentary) by Lynne Kitei, M.D., called called The Phoenix Lights. 
At first, Arizona Governor Fife Symington III made fun of the sighting and the military tried to dismiss the lights as “military flares”. But this theory didn’t hold water — the lights stayed equidistance apart, as if they were part of a single, large craft. Later, the Governor admitted that he was lying, and that he too had seen some kind of large anomalous craft in the sky that night. You don’t have to take my word for it — you can go interview people who were living in Phoenix in 1997. One witness told me she looked up, and the stars dimmed and then weren’t visible — it was definitely some type of large craft and not individual flares.
There have been other mass sightings, in Mexico City, in Russia, in South America, and elsewhere. UFO sightings are not a modern phenomenon, they are not a US-only phenomenon. UFOs are a global phenomenon, and as his secret informant told Agent Mulder at the end of the second episode of the X-Files, “They have been here … for a long long time”

5. Are UFOs top secret military craft that defy gravity?
In the second episode of the X-Files, Deep Throat, and in many episodes later in the series, witnesses at the edge of military bases see UFOs at night performing maneuvers that seem to defy the laws of inertia and gravity. These scenes are actually based on many eyewitness reports of objects and lights that hold stationary in the sky, have no apparent sound, then “jump” horizontally or vertically to a new position in the blink of an eye. The fact that these sightings have occurred often near military bases has led many, particularly in the skeptic and scientific community, to assert that UFOs are really top secret military craft that the public does not know about.
This of course, begs the question, do we have top secret military craft that defy the known laws of physics and gravity? If so, why doesn’t the so called “scientific community” know about the science between how these craft work, why are they being hidden, and why aren’t they more curious about them?
A respected NASA scientist, Paul Hill, decided to collect reports from eyewitnesses during his 25 years working for the space agency. He wrote a book (which he wasn’t allow to publish while working for NASA, so his daughter published), called “Unconventional Flying Objects” that was published by his daughter, in which he categorized these maneuvers (“sudden reversal of direction”, “acute angel turn”).
If these are top secret military vehicles, where did they get the basic design and aeronautic principles from? The disc-shaped object and its ability to seemingly defy gravity, which have led the UFO community to call these “anit-gravity technology”. Mark McCandlish, an accomplished aerospace illustrator who has illustrated top secret military aircraft based on descriptions for the covers of magazines like Popular Science, was baffled when friends in the military told him they had stumbled into hangers that had round, bell shaped craft that were hovering over the ground. It seemed like a scene out of Independence Day, not just the X-Files. McCandlish drew out the components of the ARV, or Alien Reproduction Vehicle, as it’s been called, and his drawings are readily available on-line. It resembles many reports of UFOs, including rumors of the Nazi Bell — new type of Bell-shaped flying craft that the Nazis were supposedly working on at the end of World War II.

As in the X-Files, many of these facts are unknown to the general public, or they are ridiculed by so-called “experts” who subscribe to some of the myths. In fact, the premise of the show was that a scientist, medical doctor, Dana Scully was brought in to de-bunk Mulder’s “wild” paranormal and UFO-related theories. As she became more involved in the investigations, she came upon more and more items that could only be classified as “unexplained”.
Professor Sturrock of Stanford, who did research on the attitudes of astronomers and members of the American Institute of Aeronautic and Astronautics found that the more time people spent reading this subject, the more they would come to the conclusion that there needs to be more serious scientific study of UFOs. Because it’s not a “fashionable” area for university research to get funding, it’s usually ignored.
Similarly, too many of my friends in the scientific and engineering circles, tend to dismiss UFO lore and stories as simple “crazy stories by crazy people” without having done any research of their own. The less research they’ve done, the more likely they are to dismiss UFOs out of hand. It’s very easy to ridicule or demean a group of people on the internet — but if you take the time to get to know the people that are making these claims, if you, like Dana Scully in the X-Files, you might just find, that the Truth is Out There!
I’ll leave you with another great quote from the second episode of the X-Files to ponder while we ait for the X-Files revival to begin on January 24:
“Mr. Mulder, why are those like yourself, who believe in the existence of extraterrestrial life on this earth, not dissuaded by all the evidence to the contrary?” asked the secret informant.
“Because, ” began Fox Mulder, pausing for a second, “ … all the evidence the contrary … is not entirely dissuasive.” 
The old man nodded to Mulder in acknowledgement, and walked away quietly.

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Sunday, January 10, 2016

The 7 Things I most disliked about the new Star Wars movie!

OK, I’m done with my political rants and back to writing about sci fi and film.
Of course by now everyone’s seen Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens (at least any serious nerd will have), and most reviews were positive.  Before I continue, let me get this out of the way: I actually really enjoyed the latest installment of George Lucas’ epic from a long time ago and a galaxy far, far away.  In fact, I’ve already seen it twice in the theaters – once with my co workers and once with my nephews (who are all under 10 years old) – and will probably see it again before its theatrical release is over.
There have already been many good reviews and articles listing what to like about the new movie, so I don't think you need to read another one (a few things to like: Daisy Ridley as Rey, Harrison Ford's return as Han Solo, the banter between Po and Finn, the realistic feeling sets, the lack of CGI, the music, etc.). I thought I’d go a different route;   in showing my appreciation for the film, I’m actually going to list 7 things I didn’t like or that they (J.J. Abrams and company), didn't do well in The Force Awakens.
Why? Because I, like millions of fans, have been waiting a long time to see another Star Wars movie, and there were things I was hoping to see that I didn’t.   Don’t worry Star Wars fans; Disney has made over a billion dollars from the film already, so I don’t think my little blog entry will hurt!
SPOILERS AHEAD!  If you haven’t seen the The Force Awakens yet (and that means you're probably on another planet or just plain don’t like science fiction or action films), then I suggest you stop reading here!
  1. BB-8 is “Cousin Oliver” – but I wanted to see more R2D2 and C3PO!   OK, I know, I know, everyone loves BB-8 because he’s the new “cute” droid, so how could I possibly not like the cute little guy?
    Well, I didn’t dislike him, exactly.  It’s just to me he felt a bit like Cousin Oliver in the Brady Bunch – those old enough to remember the Brady Bunch will recall that when the little kids (Bobby and Cindy) started growing up, the producers felt they needed to add a cute new small kid into the show to keep their audience happy, and voila, here was little cousin “Oliver”!
    The same thing happened in Harry Potter, as Harry and Ron and Hermione were growing up, cute little Colin Creevy showed up (same with Ender’s Game, where Bean became the next Ender).
    But C3PO and R2D2 weren’t children who were “growing up”, so there was no reason that they couldn’t be used in the same way as they had been.  George Lucas’s original idea of having not one robot (as an accessory to the heroes), but rather two “droids” who made up an interstellar "odd couple" was brilliant: it played well and added quite a bit of humor to the original trilogy.  In the prequels, this humor was mostly missing and I think it’s because the droids were an after-thought (Jar Jar Binks was the new cousin Oliver in the Phantom Menace, which kind of backfired). 
    If you watch Star Wars (err I mean Episode 4, A New Hope), the first 10 minutes are about R2D2 and C3PO bickering with each other about what to do – from Princess Leia giving the plans to R2, and C3PO’s insistence that R2 had no “secret mission”.
    Lucas once said that he viewed the droids as being the only characters who would be in all three Star Wars trilogies – in fact, he went so far as to say that in some ways, the films were from the two droids’ point of view.   In the prequels, this bickering and humor between the two was sort of missing.  OK so JJ Abrams did it better than in the prequels, but it still doesn’t change that BB-8 is basically cousin Oliver. I missed that interaction between C3PO and R2D2, which was given short shrift. "That little droid is going to cause me a lot of trouble" says Luke. "Oh," answers Threepio, "he excels at that!"

  2. The repetitive plot.  OK so the resistance (weren’t they supposed to be in charge now? If so, why are they called the “resistance”?) hid something in a droid.  And the Empire (err, I mean the Nazi-like First Order) has built a super weapon, and kidnapped the main female character.  The men (and wookie) have to go in to rescue her and to help out the rebels(err, resistance), get this, shut off the power of the shield so that the rebels (err, I mean the resistance), can destroy this new Death Star (err, I mean Starkiller base).   While the Death Star had the ability to destroy an entire planet, the Starkiller base can, get this, destroy several planets at once!  (in my best/worst jar jar binks voice: How rude!).

  3. The Death of Han Solo.  They killed off one of the most beloved characters in all of movie-dom! While I didn’t dislike how it was done (the father-son thing is very much in action here and has mythological themes), the actual death was very quick and there wasn’t much back-story between Han Solo and Kylo.  One review I read, which I agree with, is that there was a moment of shock, and then the filmgoers (and characters) moved on from there, kinda forgetting about it.  I guess I, like many others, felt that it should have packed more emotional wallop – like the death of another beloved figure on a bridge in The Fellowship of the Ring.   When Gandalf fell off that bridge, his (apparent) death had the emotional impact of a ton of bricks right there in the gut. Fly you fools! It was hard to recover from, not just for the audience, but particularly for the Hobbits!   Give them a moment, for pity's sake! Not to mention, the Elves ... "What are they singing?" ... "A lament for Gandalf" ... "What are they saying?" ... "I haven't the heart to tell you".

  4. The aftermath of the Death of Han Solo.   When they return at the end having accomplished their mission, you would think that Princess  (err, I mean, General) Leia would hug Chewie, who was the person that knew Han Solo second best after Leia herself!    But instead, she hugs Rey instead and Chewie just walks by.  Really?? This actually felt like they cut some scene that was supposed to be there, or they deliberately had her hug Rey, as a clue that Rey may indeed be related to Leia after all.  But still, come on, Chewie was Han Solo’s life-long companion, and Leia was his ex, you think they would be the ones to miss him the most? This isn't a case of wookie discrimination (i hope - hug the nearest human!), since Chewie hugged her first in the earlier scene.   I thought this star wars was supposed to be more about the characters and less about special effects?  Fail.

  5. Kylo Ren taking Rey prisoner.  Just as Princess Leia was taken prisoner in Star Wars (err, I mean Episode I, A New Hope, again) by Darth Vader, at some point Kylo Ren decides to take Rey as his prisoner rather than getting the droid BB-8 who had the “plans he was looking for” (or at least the map), because she had seen the starmap once.  Really??  It’s one thing for Kylo to suck out of Po’s head that he put the map to Skywalker (more on this macguffin below) into the droid BB-8, it's entirely another for Kylo to pull out the details of a starmap from Rey’s head when she saw it only for a brief few seconds!  OK, so I realize it was a plot device to get her and Kylo alone so he could, inadvertently, Total Recall the Force out of her, but still … even Recall had a better premise than this!

  6. The map to Luke Skywalker and all that jazz.   OK, I understand that this was the main macguffin in the movie (a "macguffin" is a “plot-enabling device” that pushes a film’s characters forward towards some arbitrary goal), but I’m not sure it made a lot of sense.   Luke was supposed to go searching for the first Jedi temple, but it looks like here he knew exactly where it was, and left a map to it with Artoo, before he  disappeared.  He’s been living on that little island for what, 10 or 20 years? Really? What happened to his spaceship? Did he send it back with Artoo after he found the temple? Anyways, suffice it to say while I appreciate the macguffin to move the plot forward and to bring back Luke Skywalker in the second film (not to mention that the starmap projection looked cool), I wish there had been more of Luke in the first film, and perhaps a better explanation for what he’s really been doing out there?  It was only, you know, the point of the plot of the whole film!

  7. How quickly Rey’s Force skills develop. OK perhaps they will explain this further in the sequels, but even Luke Skywalker (remember him, the guy who took down Darth Vader and the Emperor), needed training from old Ben Kenobi before he could do anything. Anakin, the chosen one, needed training too.   Rey not only is able to look into Ren’s mind (OK I could buy that) but suddenly does a Jedi Mind Trick on Daniel Craig’s Stormtrooper?   Luke Skywalker’s light sabre calls to her like some kind of Force psychometry, and then she is able to best Kylo Ren, out of nowhere?  Again, I liked Daisy Ridley’s performance as Rey quite a bit, but this all seemed a lot to swallow.  Even for a galaxy far, far away!

And there you have it – 7 things I didn’t like about the Force Awakens.    It’s funny that I’m writing this because as I said, I actually like the movie.  Quite a bit, especially comparing it to the Phantom Menace and Return of the Jedi, both of which I saw again recently.

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